The clamor of seemingly urgent duties force a pastor to reckon with priorities—To what will he devote himself? His answer to that question will determine the life and ministry he presents to God Almighty on the last day. Shall he look to the self-acclaimed experts and their new methods for modern times, his own intuition of what would benefit the flock, or possibly allow the congregation’s felt needs to dictate the contours of his schedule? No. He must not. Instead he must go to the scriptures to determine the business with which God has charged the pastor.
Ministry of the Word
We hear about that business when Paul, nearing the end of his life and the apostolic age, writes to a young pastor named Timothy: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word. ” (2 Tim. 4:1) Paul’s command wasn’t novel; instead he was passing along what had been Jesus’ purpose, the disciples’ commission and practice, and the central duty of every pastor (Lk. 4:43; Mt. 28:18-20; Acts 20:18-21; Eph. 4:11-14; 1 Tim. 4:13; Titus 1:1-3). The Scotsman William Still says it well, “Make your sole task in life to teach the whole Word of God to your flock. The whole Word: this is pastoral work. ” It is only as the pastor (as it was with Timothy) gives himself relentlessly to this endeavor that he will be able to present himself to his Lord (2 Tim. 2:15).
But what will it look like as a pastor gives himself to this chief aim of word ministry? First, his ministry will be both public and private (Acts 20:20). Publicly he will be always ready to lead the people of God with sound teaching that directs them to their reigning King and their duty to him. Privately the pastor will minister the word as he meets with individuals and families to counsel, encourage, and admonish with the gospel of our Lord. Second, his word ministry will be intentionally evangelistic toward unbelievers (Acts 17:16-31; 1 Cor. 14:24-25). The pastor will model, lead, and train his people to communicate the message of the Bible (1 Pet. 3:15-16; Col. 3:5-6).
Ministry of Prayer
We again hear about the business that God has charged the pastor to be about when we see the apostles wrestle with their own calling. In Acts 6 the apostles face the reality of dealing with needy people. Their response is instructive: “We will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. ” (v. 4) John Calvin wisely comments, “It shall not suffice to take great pains in teaching unless we require the blessing at the hands of the Lord…the exercise of zeal in prayer is not in vain commended unto ministers of the word. ” As with word ministry prayer was a vital component of the ministry of our Lord, his disciples, and is of utmost importance for the pastor (Lk. 6:12-16; 1 Thes. 5:16-18; 1 Tim. 2:1-3). If his ministry is to have any success the pastor must be a man of prayer.
Ministry of Sacrament
Finally, we see the work that God has charged a pastor to be about when we observe Jesus entrusting the sacraments to his disciples (Mt. 26:16-29; 28-18-20). Christ has commanded, “Do this, in remembrance of me. ” and “[M]ake disciples… baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. ” (Lk 22:19; Matt. 28:19). By means of these sacraments Christ and his benefits are represented and applied to his believing people (1 Cor. 10:16; 12:13). The pastor must give himself to the faithful and regular administration of that which God has instituted for the good of his people.
As the pastor diligently gives himself to these duties of word, prayer, and sacrament he shepherds the flock of God, blessing his people and honoring his King. Indeed, we should expect that God will use his efforts. That’s what we read about in Luke’s account of the early church in Acts 2:41-42, 47, “So those who received his word were baptized… And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. … And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” I have committed my life to serving God in this way. May God be glorified as I love and pastor his bride, the church.